Wednesday, September 4, 2019
The Holmes-Dracula File
The Holmes-Dracula File (1978) by Fred Saberhagen
The year is 1887 and Queen Victoria’s Jubilee is scheduled for late June. Meanwhile, a mad scientist prepares to unleash thousands of plague infected rats on the British public if his obscenely huge ransom demands aren't met. There is also a bizarre killer leaving a trail of bloodless and bloodied corpses--a killer who seems to be a madman of enormous strength. Count Dracula joins the World’s Greatest Detective in an effort to avert the impending crisis and take revenge on an enemy. The story is told alternately by Watson and the Count--in a document released long after Holmes and Watson are dead. In 1916 Holmes tells Watson that it is time to tell the true story which had been referenced in "The Sussex Vampire" as “a story for which the world is not yet prepared.” But still the world was not ready and the tale of the Giant Rat of Sumatra is not given to the public until its caretaker releases it for publication in the 1970s.
It's amazing how many fictional people didn't really die--even when their creators said they did. I've now read Holmes pastiches where Moriarty survived his plunge down the Reichenbach Falls and Stapleton didn't really drown in the Grimpen Mire. Bringing back characters from the dead seems to be the thing to do if you're going to write a Holmes story. Or if you're not into that, then just mix Holmes up with some famous person...fictional or real, it doesn't really matter. We've got Holmes and Teddy Roosevelt; Holmes vs. the Phantom of the Opera; Holmes vs. Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde; Holmes and H.G. Wells and his martians; Holmes and Jack the Ripper...just to name a few. In the 1970s, Fred Saberhagen gave us a double-whammy--not only did he bring someone back from the dead; he brought back someone from the undead and then brought him into a Holmes story. Bram Stoker went to a great deal of trouble to tell us how Count Dracula was killed once and for all. Apparently, that was all stuff and nonsense. In his first book in the Dracula series (The Dracula Tape--which I haven't read, by the way), the Count tells all about how his supposed demise was a big fake to fool Van Helsing.
So....provided you can swallow that particularly large and gaudy fly, you can settle down for an interesting look at Victorian London with Dracula and Holmes working together (for different purposes) to prevent an evil doctor and his minions from unleashing those plague-ridden rats on the people of England. Holmes is, of course, working for Queen and country. Dracula is bent on a personal revenge--after all, these imbecile mortals dared to cosh him on the head with wood (one of his rare weaknesses) and experiment on him in their efforts to reintroduce the plague. Holmes is his usual brilliant self--pointing Lestrade in the right direction for the mad killer portion of the story and foreseeing the moves of the mad scientist. He works out a clever strategy with the Count to foil the evil doctor's plans.
Having gotten over the hurdle of Dracula not having been destroyed, I actually enjoyed this one very much. It doesn't do to hold on too dearly to the actual Stoker story...or to mind if Saberhagen comes up with a somewhat bizarre connection between Dracula and Holmes (beyond the whole wipe out the evil-doers thing). He does provide an intriguing explanation for why Holmes (and Mycroft) hasn't married and doesn't hold women or romantic relationships in high regard. The explanation also touches on Holmes's unconventional and, perhaps, unhappy childhood and relationship with his mother. An interesting take to say the least. Overall, Saberhagen does well with the characters--staying true to Holmes's and Watson's personalities--though Watson is a little quick to doubt Holmes's sanity when he starts talking about vampires. He also gives Dracula an interesting voice--with just enough snark when referencing the incidents with Van Helsing and company. ★★★ and 3/4.
Deaths = 7 (one stabbed; three struck by objects; one run over by carriage; one strangled; one neck broken)
Vintage Silver Card: Where (Hospital--mental hospital)
Calendar of Crime: May (author's birth month)